I am expecting later today that President Barack Obama will announce that he has found Amelia Earhart; tomorrow, it will be D.B. Cooper, followed by Judge Roy Bean. He is on a roll, after all.
The stunning news about Osama bin Laden will help Obama in the short term and the long term. In the short term, a stronger president will have more clout and leverage with his adversaries in the endgame negotiations over the debt ceiling (perhaps he ought to dispatch a Predator drone to circle Speaker John Boehner’s house for the next few weeks). In the long run, he will no longer have to sit by while Republicans criticize him for timidity, indecisiveness, leading from behind, or mirroring President Jimmy Carter in his foreign policy leadership.
But the triumph over bin Laden will not solve the problems of a looming debt ceiling deadline or set of deadlines, difficult negotiations over debt and deficits, not to mention the fundamentals of health care, a sluggish domestic and global economy, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan (now even more complicated) or soaring oil prices.
I will get to the debt limit dynamic later. But first I want to offer a few words on some heroes. They include Rep. Bobby Scott (D), one of the best lawmakers in the House, who had the courage to praise a Virginia redistricting plan that weakened the minority participation in his own district to create an additional minority-influenced district in the state. It is exceedingly rare for a House Member to accept willingly a redistricting plan that doesn’t enhance his or her own advantage.
The next batch of heroes includes four Senators: Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). All stepped up to the plate to craft and support an excellent plan to streamline and rationalize the nomination and confirmation process for executive nominees, including taking the dramatic step of reducing significantly the number of Senate-confirmable positions. (It should be noted that New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, among others, helped make this reform effort a part of the January Reid/McConnell leadership understanding that headed off a confrontation on the Senate rules over the filibuster.)
I worked on this issue with Collins and Lieberman in 2007 and 2008, and we came close to crafting a sensible reform —but the pressure from committee leaders on both sides to keep their hostage numbers high put the kibosh on the whole reform effort. This time, it worked, but with a strong, sensible, well-crafted package of reforms. I hope that this model of bipartisan cooperation and Senate discipline (as Alexander said, the Senate still has 1,000 hostages) will not falter because of the unreasonable opposition of a small group of conservatives.
Now let’s turn to something less heroic. The House and Senate currently seem to me to be gripped with a case of mass, temporary (I hope) insanity. First is the nonchalant or aggressively indifferent attitude way too many Members of Congress are taking toward a potential breach in the debt limit for the first time ever.